Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Cole Clay // Film Critic
On Friday of last week, Preston Barta posted his top 10 best films of the year (read here). While many of the movies are ones that I admired, I want to take focus to a list of films that you probably didn’t see, or maybe never heard of.
After seeing roughly around 175 films in 2014, here are 20 films that stuck with me, and it is my hope that after you are done watching BOYHOOD and UNBROKEN you will give some love to these films that reside just out of the mainstream scope.
It’s a bold and unapologetically selfish story that shows the best (and worst) sides of Jason Schwartzman and Elizabeth Moss. The dialogue, the tone, and the vintage 16mm cinematography make LISTEN UP PHILLIP a true throwback whose sentiments are firmly placed alongside classic New York City comedies of the 1970s.
A popular topic of film conversation this year are projects that reach further than they can grasp, and I, ORIGINS undoubtedly plays with its lofty premise. It does this so much so that the text challenges the basic principles of the universe as we know it, but I marveled in Mike Cahill’s ability to keep the film on the razor’s edge, and it’s simply beautiful.
Not once this year has a film said so much with saying very little. Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien who turns from predator to observer while trying to make sense of the humans. We see the world from her point-of-view, and even though we have an understanding of the surroundings, the film still manages to be an infinitely eerie exercise in science fiction.
Damn, Tom Hardy is just too cool. He can brood, he can emote, and he can cuddle the mess out of an adorable Pit Bull puppy for two hours. This crafty little crime drama set itself apart from the pack with a nest full of surprises that lead up to a rich payoff. Not to mention that his was one of the last on-screen roles for the late James Gandolfini.
Technically E.L. Katz’s dark (like really dark) comedy was released at SXSW in 2013, but has since gained a small cult following since being distributed on VOD by Drafthouse Films earlier this Spring. It’s a cynical, twisted, debauched and grim take on human nature in the best way possible. Check out our run-in with star Pat Healey.
This film isn’t nearly as abrasive as the title suggests. To his credit, writer-director Justin Simien is far more interested in satirizing our increasingly integrated culture than outright condemning it. But with an ensemble cast that gives a poignant perspective on American universities, this experience was too crystallizing not to recognize at the year’s end.
Meet Mister Babadook. He will get inside your head. Don’t look up, he may be hanging out above your bed. But, don’t let that stop you from watching this new entry into the horror canon. Native Aussie Jennifer Kent cloaks an intelligent story of mourning and loss in the guise of a harrowing supernatural horror flick. Leading lady Essie Davis gives a compelling and committed performance that looms larger than the the late night knocks of the “BABA-DOOK-DOOK.”
This is the one film I haven’t been able to get out of my head all year long. It’s eccentric, (almost to a fault) but rises above the oddity rather than relying on the trappings. As remarkable as Michael Fassbender has been in recent years, this is the first time he has downright morphed into the scenery providing a heartbreaking portrait of the mentally damaged artist, friend and human being (loosely-based on the cult singer Frank Sidebottom). Oh, yeah, and it’s also extremely funny.
Life is all about choices according to this meditative family drama straight out of Sweden. Ruben Östlund challenges the ideas of masculinity with a film that has an inherent sense of underlying dread that’s forcefully broken by a deadpan comedy style that would invite praises from the likes of Ricky Gervais and Steve Carrell. Many audience members will be looking inward at their own lives in hope they would take the road less traveled.
It’s about hipster vampires and it’s directed by Jim Jarmusch – I was sold from jump street. Stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton make this a vampire romance that you won’t mind seeing. Jarmusch’s loose plot structure captures the undead romance of hanging out and the stark realizations they discover while reflecting on past several (hundred) years they have spent in the wasteland that has become Earth. The crowded fanger genre has finally found new life with a playful film that manages to be silly without puncturing its sincere approach.
One man, one car, one phone – one helluva movie!
Not as good, or as important as it wants to be, but got to give it up for the man Brendan Gleeson.
James Franco set it up with the script and Gia Coppola knocked it down with the direction in this dream-like film about youth with lots of booze and too much time on their hands.
Yeah, obviously Keanu Reeves is back in a big way in this campy action film (that I believe had a kill count of 84 by the eponymous anti-hero).
It was gut-wrenching and still had some laughs in this political drama by Jon Stewart.
Jon Favreau is back and he’s making Cubanos for everybody from Austin, TX, to Miami, FL. It’s not particularly ambitious, but it’s insanely adorable.
It turns out there are other quality films to come out of New Zealand that don’t feature Orcs. Director Gerard Johnstone’s Scooby-Doo like mystery nails the slapstick comedy and the finger-peering gore.
Turns out that not all of the crunchy granola types have the best intentions. Kelly Reichardt’s finely orchestrated drama probes at the audience and introduced me to the term “eco-terrorist.”
David Gordon Green has made a comeback to his independent roots and he brought the increasingly bizarre Nicolas Cage along the ride for this excellent story about the road to redemption.
Dressing down doesn’t always work for hunky leading men like Jude Law, but his brash turn as an aging safe-cracker stood out come the year’s end.